The village of Bosham, in West Sussex, is one of my favourite English villages. It stands on the shores of Chichester Harbour, in surroundings that are serene and unhurried, and locals and Royalty alike have lived here for centuries. There’s plenty of evidence of these regal residents in the Holy Trinity Church, itself a place of peace.
Vespasian, 9th Emperor of the Roman Empire, invaded Britain in AD 43, and it is believed that he kept a villa in the parish of Bosham. Roman pottery, bricks and coins have been found in the area. The Romans constructed the mill stream which still runs into the harbour and they also built a basilica, the foundations of which were used when the Holy Trinity church was built out of local flint by the Saxons. Tall Roman columns support the magnificent arch which leads to the 11th century Chancel.
King Canute, who ruled England in the early 11th century, had a palace at Bosham and legend tells that it was here he commanded the tide to halt. When the tide did not stop he made his famous statement: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of Kings.” Canute’s eight year old daughter drowned in 1020 in the mill stream and she was buried in the nave of the Holy Trinity church. Her grave was rediscovered in 1865 and is marked with a stone placed by the children of the village in 1906.
King Harald prayed in the Church in Bosham in 1064 before leaving on his ill-fated voyage to Normandy. His visit is recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry, with text that, when translated, reads “Where Harold, duke of the English, and his knights ride to Bosham Church” and “Here Harold sailed by sea.” A copy of that section of the Tapestry hangs on a wall inside the Church and shows the King riding proudly into the village with hawks and hounds, entering the church, and feasting on a banquet before sailing out into the Solent.
Harald was not the only notable person to seek serenity at the Church. Crusaders prayed there before leaving on their long and dangerous journeys to the Holy Land in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. They would mark their journeys by carving the sign of the cross in the stone archway at the entrance to the Church, in the hope of divine protection.
That divine protection doesn’t extend to the houses in the old part of the village, which have raised front doors and fences made of stone. This is to hold back the same tides that washed over Canute’s feet. At high tide the sea comes into the village and floods the roads.
Signs warn of the high tide mark but we saw a careless motorist who had left his car precariously parked.
Perhaps he should have followed Harald’s lead and visited the Holy Trinity Church.